Be There for One Another: Samira Harnish

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An Iraqi teenager, Samira Harnish came to the U.S. because of an arranged marriage. Struggling against bigotry and poverty, she earned a degree in Civil Engineering. After settling in Boise, Idaho, Samira got a job as a semiconductor manufacturing engineer; as a research and development engineer, she was integral to the development some of the most advanced memory products ever assembled. When she retired, Samira was in charge of storage node development at the largest domestic manufacturer of semiconductor memory.

For Samira, serving her adopted homeland and her community has always been important. As a member of Women in Engineering, she educated young women in the sciences, assisted the elderly in Meals on 1472990Wheels, and interpreted in Arabic within both the courts and healthcare sectors.

Lifelong Dream

In 2010, Samira fulfilled her lifelong dream by founding a nonprofit organization devoted to assisting women refugees who have suffered mental and physical trauma in war and camps: Women of the World. Located in Utah, WoW’s mission is to help women achieve self-sufficiency, and their dreams, in the U.S.

Samira calls WoW “my heart on my sleeve.” WoW’s introductory documentary film won the Short Documentary Film Category at the Workman Productions Online Award (Documentary Category, 2015), and Samira has received numerous awards for her service, including a 2012 nomination as a SHERO by SHEROES United and KUED7.

Fearless Females 5Cs with Samira Harnish

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“We need to be there for one another. We all need to do our part by doing something as simple as befriending a woman of lesser means.”

1. What’s the most courageous decision you’ve made?

Listening to my heart and starting my non-profit, Women of the World. My career as a semiconductor engineer in the largest domestic memory manufacturer as an Integration Engineer in R&D suited my drive and creativity but I had always had a dream to help other women to succeed.

Women’s success is so important to me because as a little girl I saw my brothers and their friends have opportunities handed to them while my sisters fought for the same advantages.

I walked away from my career into volunteering and eventually forming Women of the World in order to give refugee women from patriarchal cultures the opportunity to overcome their childhood cultural biases and be whatever they want to be.

2. What choices are most important to you?

In many ways, Women of the World mirrors the choices that are most important to me, that have enabled me to have a successful career, loving family, and caring service “second act.” First, the choice to get as much education as is desired is key. For our new refugee neighbors, this is often as simple as English tutoring but can and has gone all the way to post-doctoral work.

Second, women must be able to choose and be economically viable, to stay with their young children early in their lives. Too many women do not have this opportunity even with all of the data on the importance of caregiving in early childhood.

Finally, I think living in dignity IS NOT a choice, it is a RIGHT. Too often our leaders believe that a bit more hard work is all that separates the poor from dignity – this ignores the fundamental truth that it is hard starting out or overcoming adversity and in these cases, education and encouragement yield better results than rules and discouragement.

3. What fears have you conquered?

I no longer fear taking the case of the refugee women (that I endearingly call “my ladies”) directly to the power structure of local, state, and federal governments and agencies. I must educate not only the refugee ladies that need service, but also the American citizen uneducated about the courage of these women and that the right response is compassion. I love my adopted country of America and as such, I want it to fulfill its promise to each citizen, especially those that are taking refuge here.

4. What conversation made the most impact on you?

I remember so much of what my mother told me about the dangers of egoism. She used to say that if you “give money to charity with the right hand, don’t tell the left hand.” I want the Fearless Female readership to understand that I don’t write these blog posts or speak at human rights venues in order to enhance my status, but instead I work to give a voice to the voiceless refugee woman struggling with PTSD, working hard to overcome poverty, staying up late to learn English to give her a chance to parent, or having her human rights violated by a slumlord, an abusive husband, or an uncaring bureaucrat.

5. What do you want women to get clear about?

That we need to be there for one another. I don’t know many of the refugee languages but can understand the pain of poverty when another exorbitant power bill comes in from a landlord fleecing his Section 8 tenants; I don’t know the warring factions in the Congo’s long running civil war, but I understand her desire to escape her husband’s PTSD when it turns on her and her children; and I don’t know how to survive in the high mountains of Nepal, but I know how to fill out an application for community college, to take that first step to survival here. We all need to do our part by doing something as simple as befriending a woman of lesser means.

We’re grateful to Samira Harnish, a Fearless Female focused on lifting other women up. Samira wants you to know that she’s also the proud mother of five, nana for two beautiful granddaughters, and the wife of advisory board member Justin Harnish.

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Comments

  1. Wow! A powerful and inspiring post!

    • Isn’t it just? Love sharing all you #FearlessFemales’ her stories, C.L. — yours included! Thank you so much for always weighing in with PAWSitive support, you’re the best! Big hugs, Jone

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